GM Free Cymru

The covert war to discredit Seralini's study

Added 13th January 2013
Written by Frédérique Baudouin Wednesday, 14 November 2012

There's a simple way to definitively discredit Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini's controversial study that apears to show the potentially harmful effects of GMOs: pressurise the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) that published it to "retract" the study from its list of publications.

This is what many experts are fighting to achieve in what appears to be an orchestrated attack. It's a veritable public relations war with no holds barred.

The journal has received many letters from critics. It has published around twenty, and a response to the critics by the Séralini team is also available online.

Legitimate scientific debate, you might say. But behind the cohort of academic titles that are listed is a hidden "biotech sphere" which brings together biotechnology researchers, regulatory policy experts and representatives of industry.

These biotechnology proponents denounce the "bad science" ("junk science") of the "militant researchers", who are routinely described as "activists linked to the environmental movement" and as "motivated by personal interests."

An international network

Among the first letters published, there is one that stands out because it has no author listed. It is a joint letter signed by 26 people, most of them scientists, including the [French] national critic of Seralini, Marc Fellous of the French Association for Plant Biotechnology [AFBV].

The AFBV is behind the Academies' attack on Gilles-Eric Seralini as a "militant" responsible for the "orchestration of a scientific reputation [...] by spreading fear". [ ]

A number of Marc Fellous' co-signatories are linked to the pro-GM group AgBioWorld, led by the geneticist CS Prakash, who is himself a signatory of the joint letter.

Prakash and his organization are also the originators of two petitions the first collected 57 signatures and the second 731) calling for "the release of the raw data" of Gilles-Eric Seralini. Astonishingly, the first signatories of each petition are the same people who sent the letters to the journal FCT.

Viral campaigns of defamation

In 2002, the British newspaper The Guardian revealed that AgBioWorld had played a major role in a "viral campaign" of defamation against the whistleblower Ignacio Chapela after he uncovered the genetic contamination of Mexican corn.

The inquiry revealed that the [AgBioWorld] organisation's website was hosted by the communications firm Bivings, which was employed by Monsanto and directed by one Jay Byrne.

It used false identities ("Mary Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek") to speak in the name of "the scientific community" and promote the idea that Chapela was linked to environmentalists, who were likened to "terrorists" and "vandals".

The Bivings company was dissolved in December 2011 after a cyber attack by Anonymous in the guise of "Operation End Monsanto." But Byrne has continued to operate from a headquarters in St. Louis (Illinois, USA), where Monsanto is also headquartered along with his new company V-fluence.

This strategy of defamation was exactly the one used by Henry Miller, a signatory of the joint letter to FCT, "health regulation" expert at AgBioWorld, and member of the neoconservative think tank, the Hoover Institution.

In a series of articles published by Forbes, he describes Seralini's study as "fraudulent", and he denounces the "fear profiteers" of a "protest industry funded by organic interests".

This vitriolic attack has Jay Byrne as a co-author, who, the magazine had to disclose, was responsible for viral [PR] communications for Monsanto (1997-2001).

Henry Miller's CV is just as interesting because he is the "founding father" (1989-1994) of GMO regulation at the US Food and Drug Administration. He is the architect, with former Monsanto lawyer Michael Taylor, of the infamous "principle of substantial equivalence", the cornerstone of GMO regulation across the world.

Hidden conflicts of interest

Another striking tactic among critics of Seralini is concealing their relationship with industry and systematically presenting themselves as scientists from universities or research centers.

This applies to Anthony Trewavas and Bruce Chassy, experts in biology and GMOs at AgBioWorld, and both authors of a letter demanding the retraction of Seralini's paper by the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.

Presenting himself as Professor Emeritus of Food Safety at the University of Illinois, Chassy is a lobbyist who participated in the drafting of a paper for Dow Chemicals, another biotech giant, aimed at simplifying or removing food safety regulations for GMOs. He is also the lead author, with an employee of Monsanto, of two policy reports [2004, 2008] on the regulation of GMOs for the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), the main lobby group of the food industry.

Note that two leaders of the GMO Panel of the European Agency for Food Safety (EFSA), Harry A. Kuiper, its former chair for nearly ten years (2003-2012) and Gijs A. Kleter, current vice-chair, appear on these strategic documents of ILSI under the direction of Chassy.

Furthermore, while three of the letter writers [to the journal] openly specify their contractual relationship with Monsanto, Dr. Andrew Cockburn modestly presents himself as a toxicologist at the University of Newcastle. However, until 2003, Mr. Cockburn was Scientific Director for Monsanto Europe/Africa before setting up his lobbying firm Toxico-Logical Consulting Ltd..

And since it's a small world, Dr. Cockburn is also the director of the ILSI expert task force on the evaluation of foods containing nanomaterials.

Lobbying for $13 billion

The litany of conflicts of interest and pro-biotech positions of the fifty or so public critics of Seralini's study could continue for pages. We meet representatives of Indian organisations that promote the trade in biotechnology, others who want to end world hunger with a ration of GMOs, or pro-GMO communications specialists (David Tribe), and other lobbyists working between São Paulo, Washington and Brussels, the golden triangle of GMOs...

A closed world, dressed in the garb of science; the well-oiled marketing strategy of a GM seed industry that reaped 13 billion dollars in 2011 – all this stands to be disrupted by Seralini's study. It remains to be seen whether the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology can resist the weight of the lobby that is determined to bury Seralini's study.